Is a bipartisan compromise on the horizon for Congress' energy bill? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E Daily reporter Nick Juliano discusses moves in the House and Senate that could demonstrate a path to bipartisanship. He also talks about the most significant bills floated in both chambers.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the Cutting Edge. Is a bipartisan compromise on the horizon for Congress' energy bill? E&E Daily's Nick Juliano is here with details on what's happening behind the scenes. Nick, more than two dozen bills floated, and you've determined that we perhaps have some bipartisanship happening here. What stands out to you?
Nick Juliano: Maybe. I mean, there are some, you know, small indications. It's still early. It's too early to pop the Champagne bottles by any means, but you know, some glimmers of progress that we haven't seen in a few recent years. Perhaps what's most notable about the sort of slate of bills that are being considered is what's not there. You know, you don't have Keystone XL approval. You don't have drill in ANWR. You don't have -- on the Democratic side you don't have cap and trade or a carbon tax or an RPS. I mean, both sides are very serious about trying to set aside the things on which they know that they won't be able to agree and make some progress where they can.
Monica Trauzzi: So on substance, what are the most significant bills that have been introduced?
Nick Juliano: Sure. So you've seen -- you know, some general themes are emerging. This is all happening in the context of infrastructure, supply, energy efficiency, government accountability. Those are the sort of four pillars that Lisa Murkowski and Fred Upton in the House are more or less building upon. Republicans have introduced quite a few bills that look at natural gas pipelines, you know, how can you make the construction happen quicker, how can you remove some regulatory barriers in ways that don't just say get rid of NEPA. Democrats are pretty interested in things like distributed generation, rooftop solar panels, you know, how much do homeowners deserve back from the utilities if they put solar panels on their roof, how do you improve the electric grid, how do you get the smart grid technology out and happening, energy storage -- all these sorts of things. And that really sort of points to what each sort of side of the ideological spectrum is looking to in the context of the overall transition in the energy space, right? Like, carbon -- we're reducing carbon emissions. We're changing the way we get our power. You know, all of this happening. Republicans look to that and talk a lot about natural gas; Democrats look to that and talk a lot about renewable energy, that sort of thing.
Monica Trauzzi: So Senate Energy and Natural Resources will be holding a series of hearings over the next few weeks on these pillars, as you said. How contentious are these topics to achieving that overall bipartisanship?
Nick Juliano: Sure. So we've already seen the first round of hearings. That happened last week on energy efficiency, and both the House and the Senate had hearings on that. And they were fairly friendly affairs, especially in the Senate. You know, efficiency is something that a lot of people can find a lot of common ground on, so that's the easiest step. Now we're getting into the harder parts. You know, it's going to be tougher. We have some controversial issues in there. You know, Senator Hoeven reintroduced a bill that would expedite cross-border pipeline construction. So this doesn't say, "Approve Keystone XL," it says, "Eliminate the presidential permit requirement that has held up Keystone XL for so long." The White House threatened to veto this bill when it came up in the House last year. That's going to be contentious. You have some Democrats on board, too, so you know, you're going to have some balancing acts there. You know, Lisa Murkowski has a bill about methane hydrates. That's an issue that some environmentalists are a little nervous about given the potential greenhouse gas emissions. Senator Barrasso has a coal-to-liquids bill. But overall everyone is sort of trying to focus in on improving the electric grid, improving the pipeline system, addressing areas where they hope they can find some agreement.
Monica Trauzzi: Chairwoman Murkowski held a meeting yesterday for a small group of reporters. What did you glean from that discussion?
Nick Juliano: Yeah, I mean, she -- what I took away is that she hasn't been kidding when she's been talking -- you know, she's been saying the same basic thing all year. You know, she said, "I want to find common ground. I want to be bipartisan." I mean, she's now sort of starting to -- you know, the rubber is starting to meet the road, so to speak. You know, one thing that sort of stuck out to me -- she said, "We've had plenty of messaging so far. I'm sick of messaging. We haven't passed an energy bill since 2007. Let's pass an energy bill." This is kind of ironic when you remember that back in January we spent a month talking about the Keystone XL approval bill which everyone knew was going to get vetoed, and it was partially a messaging exercise, but that was also an important procedural exercise. It showed that Murkowski and Cantwell can work well together. They could manage the floor. They got -- each side got some amendments to get voted on. You started to sort of see where people were going to come down. I mean, that's a relationship that's really going to be important and will come to bear as this process moves on.
Monica Trauzzi: And we were talking before the show that this time it feels a little different. There really does seem to be significant momentum. How strong are the legs on this? What are your projections?
Nick Juliano: I mean, it's baby steps. I think that's the thing to keep in mind. Everyone -- we still don't have an actual package yet. This is just a slate of options that they're considering. I mean, we don't have an actual draft of what the energy bill looks like in the Senate yet. The House is putting some discussion drafts. Again, these are early products. You know, we'll see. I think the real test is going to be if the committees can arrive at some sort of a bipartisan product, the real test is going to be what happens then. What happens when you open this up to the rank and file? Can you convince them that now is not necessarily the time that we want to eliminate the Clean Power Plan 'cause we can't get 60 votes, or the president will veto it? Same things with things like the Keystone pipeline or anything else -- we'll probably see votes on those issues, but making sure that you avoid poison pills is going to be a real test well down the world here, so ...
Monica Trauzzi: All right, it'll be an interesting year.
Nick Juliano: Yeah.
Monica Trauzzi: Thank you.
Nick Juliano: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
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